An Analysis of Satan's Final Speech in Milton’s Paradise Lost
Satan's final speech to Eve, 11. 679-732, Book IX, in Milton's Paradise Lost, is a persuasive masterpiece carefully structured to appeal to her ambitious tendencies and to expand her already existing doubts (which Satan has implanted) as to the perfect nature of God. Satan begins by worshipping the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as Eve will do after she has made her choice. Throughout the remainder of the speech, he attempts to present the tree as an alternative focus of her faith. Satan endeavours to weaken Eve's admiration and fear of God, and to reinforce her faith in herself, or the potential of what she could be if she had the courage to eat of the fruit. Satan's speech is primarily interrogative - - he poses provocative questions, and then provides what he represents as all of the possible answers. Of course, every solution he offers supports her tasting of the tree. By the close of the oration, whether or not we have any Biblical knowledge, it is evident that Eve cannot possibly resist the brilliance of Satan's argument.
Satan's first words are addressed not to Eve but constitute an exultation of the tree. He speaks of the power it has provided, of the near ecstasy and knowledge that has welled up within him since (allegedly) tasting the fruit. Satan's emphasis on the power that the tree contains is perhaps a shrewd recognition of Eve's feelings of inferiority. He realizes that Eve agonizes over Adam's predominant position, and possibly even resents the supremacy of God Himself. Satan indirectly presents the tree as a means of bridging this gap. Through one simple action, she can instantly assert her independence, as well as acquire the wisdom and therefore the authority of God.
When Satan assures Eve that "Ye shall not die" (9, 1. 685), he is being truthful. This is characteristic of much of his dialogue. He selectively intersperses truth with falsehood to achieve what appears to be a wholly genuine argument. However, although Satan's claim that Eve will not physically die is accurate, this does not necessarily entail that God has deceived her. Some aspect of her will die when she eats of the fruit, including her innocence and closeness to God. In effect, the essence of what Eve is will perish. Satan manipulates God's words and chooses to interpret them literally when they were intended as a figurative warning. Satan's assurance that the fruit "gives you life to knowledge" (11. 686-87) is also correct. Eating of the tree will give Eve a new life, marked by an increased enlightenment. However, he neglects to mention that this new life will occasion a death to her previously untroubled existence. With knowledge comes a great burden.
God is referred to as "the Threatener" (1.687), rather than by His proper title. This label diminishes Him enormously. It implies that God does not follow through on his threats or promises. He scolds, nags, and dominates Adam...